What am I missing? Barry Bonds cheated like a fiend, loading his swollen body with performance-enhancing drugs to break what once was sports’ most celebrated individual record. His connection to the BALCO cesspool was well-documented and voluminously detailed by skilled investigative reporters. He remains a heinous example of why teen athletes shouldn’t partake in steroids, which, when not halting heartbeats or rotting a user’s insides, have been known to kill.
Yet even so, because a younger electorate wants to change the world when it should concentrate on changing its underwear, a movement is on to eventually induct Bonds and fellow juicer Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame. Is Gov. Jerry Brown, that dubious liberator of Robert Downey Jr. and other felons, now running the Baseball Writers’ Association of America?
Not only is it another reason why the future of sports journalism is bleak, this development disregards the very adhesive that makes sporting competition worthy of our time and interest. That would be integrity, kids. When I was a young writer, I sat in press boxes and cringed as a chemically fueled Bonds shattered the all-time home run standard of the honorable Henry Aaron. I watched as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged a phony power duel, how Clemens huffed and puffed and pumped out those strikeouts and victories.
The game suffered. The American soul weakened, too, rocked and poisoned by sports scandals that erode the public trust to this day. A complicit commissioner, representing intentionally blind owners busy counting their PED-produced profits, was reduced to looking like Mr. Magoo before Congress. Baseball slumped in cultural importance, continuing a decades-long fade from national pastime to No. 4 sport, trending behind college football and the NBA among demographics that matter — and barely resonating amid the NFL colossus.
That’s how Bonds contributed to damaging a sport. As his needle moved, baseball’s stopped. He and his ilk distorted the record books that are so vital to this game and its traditions. But they just might forklift him into Cooperstown anyway in his remaining six years of eligibility, clueless to the message they’re sending, oblivious to what a reversal in judgment says to future generations.
After appearing on only 36.8 percent of ballots last January, Bonds spiked to 44.3 percent and Clemens to 45 percent in totals announced Wednesday. Those numbers should be dropping precipitously, not rising, and while 75 percent is needed for induction, the fact 195 voters said yes will make the debate hotter and result in more sharp increases annually. Again, 195 writers said yes to Barry Bonds, 195 more than his sins deserve.
It kind of made you nauseous on a day when Ken Griffey Jr., never linked to PEDs, demonstrated how an all-natural, untainted career can thrive when he rode a record 99.3 percent vote to election. Griffey was named by 437 of 440 voters, a number that was reduced by about 100 as Hall officials eliminated older reporters who haven’t actively covered the major leagues for years. They made the correct call, by the way, in streamlining the process. Playing judge and jury requires evaluators who actually cover games on a regular basis.
But seeing momentum spike for Bonds and Clemens only reminds us of a bigger problem with the system: No writer should be voting for any Hall of Fame, any trophy, any award. We are supposed to break news in this industry, not make news, and the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have it right in not allowing writers to participate. We are covering the sports industry, which means we should not be a direct part of the sports industry, particularly any process vulnerable to favoritism, cronyism or any other political “ism” that could violate professional detachment. A Chicago Sun-Times reporter, Joe Cowley, once gave an undeserving White Sox player, A.J. Pierzynski, a lower-place vote on a Most Valuable Player ballot as an apparent thank-you to a source/friend. That happens more than you think, with the good-but-hardly-immortal likes of J.T. Snow, Armando Benitez and B.J. Surhoff among those named on Hall ballots in recent years. (Snow deserves an eternal place in the Humanitarian Hall of Fame by saving 3-year-old Darren Baker, now 15, from a catastrophic collision during the 2002 World Series.)
As for Bonds and Clemens, the bandwagon simply thinks it’s time to reward the only seven-time MVP and only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, regardless of methods that helped create their prolific numbers. One piece of rationale: Bonds and Clemens were producing Hall-type seasons before they juiced, which misses the point. They ultimately cheated the game and themselves, just as Pete Rose cheated the game and himself by gambling on baseball. The commissioner, Rob Manfred, upheld Rose’s lifetime ban, all but ending his campaign for Cooperstown. Yet inexplicably, the sport is having mercy on juicers who did considerably more damage to an entire era than Rose did to himself. Bonds is the new hitting coach of the Miami Marlins. McGwire is the new bench coach of the San Diego Padres. Manny Ramirez is a hitting consultant for the Chicago Cubs. Alex Rodriguez is receiving standing ovations at Yankee Stadium. Matt Williams was managing the Washington Nationals.
None of this makes sense. The voters are pushing for Bonds but are punishing McGwire and Sosa with low totals. Mind explaining? They voted in Mike Piazza, who admitted to using androstenedione when it wasn’t yet banned, but isn’t McGwire’s use of andro the prime reason he won’t make the Hall?
Especially bothersome Wednesday: Some respected veteran scribes have hopped on the Bonds train. I think they do it to avoid being mocked by younger writers, such as one who referred to former New York TImes reporter Murray Chass as “an independent online codger” — one who achieved far more success than will the crafter of that lame characterization.
This isn’t about who’s a millennial and who’s a baby boomer and who is somewhere in between. This is about integrity.
And the writers who vote for Barry Bonds, it seems, have no more virtue than Barry Bonds.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.